Three Democrats looking to 'topple' Rep. Scott Tipton debate in Durango

Tuesday, June 5, 2018 6:58 PM
Three Democrats running for the U.S. House seat in Colorado's 3rd Congressional District debated Monday in Durango. The candidates, from left, are Karl Hanlon, Diane Mitsch Bush and Arn Menconi.

Three Democrats competing to upend U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, a Cortez Republican, in November talked about impeachment during a debate Monday at the Durango Public Library, but the subject wasn't confined to President Donald Trump.

Diane Mitsch Bush, who represented Routt County in the Colorado General Assembly from 2013 to 2017; Karl Hanlon, a Carbondale rancher and water attorney who served as chief legal adviser to the city of Glenwood Springs; and Arn Menconi, a former Eagle County commissioner and a social justice advocate, are facing off in the primary election for Congressional District 3.

Menconi, the most recent entry into the race, brought up Trump during the debate.

The best way to deal with Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, who has been questioned about ethical lapses and rollbacks in environmental regulations, Menconi said, would be to impeach the president.

"You don't worry about incrementalism when the house is on fire," he told a full room of more than 250 people.

Mitsch Bush said science must be returned to guiding regulatory actions at the EPA. She referred to the Gold King Mine spill in August 2015, saying mining firms have to be made responsible for the legacy of tailings and other environmental hazards left behind.

Instead of impeaching Trump, Hanlon said Pruitt has more than earned an impeachment effort.

"He is a sitting Cabinet member. He can be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors," he said.

Impeachment, as controversial of a subject as that is, did not dominate the debate. There was room for other issues.

Health careHealth care, Hanlon said, is "a fundamental right" and advocates for "universal access for every single person." He said when people are forced to decide to make decisions on whether to pay for food, rent or health care, it is time to make changes now in health policy.

Mitsch Bush supported a Democratic plan introduced in Congress to extend Medicare to everyone. But she wanted certain amendments to better serve rural areas, such as covering costs for ambulance expenses.

Menconi, who also backed Medicare for all, noted Proposition 69, which would have provided universal health care in Colorado, drew almost no support from prominent Democrats when it appeared on the ballot in 2016 and fell to crushing defeat - with 79 percent opposed.

"Where was the Democratic leadership when they had an opportunity to make a difference?" he asked.

And, he added, it is ridiculous to ask people who make $15 to $20 an hour to pay for health insurance plans that range from $1,500 to $2,000 a month.

Campaign-finance reformMenconi asked the audience for a show of hands of people who had supported Bernie Sanders for president, and then asked how many thought he had been cheated of a fair chance in the primaries.

"We have to be skeptical of the DNC (Democratic National Committee) and the DCCC (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) and their roles in the process," he said. "We have to make sure our house is clean before we criticize the other party."

Hanlon pressed for campaign-finance reform, but he also said it is important to protect an independent Justice Department and judiciary branch to ensure campaigns are run cleanly and above board.

Mitsch Bush said the Citizens United ruling that equates campaign donations to free speech has to be reversed legislatively and called for a strengthening of the Voting Rights Act.

At the end of the debate, which was hosted by Indivisible Durango and La Plata County Democrats, more common ground was found: Everyone in the room joined in a spirited chant of "topple Tipton."